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August 2023

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What's at Stake in the States

The 2022 midterm elections ushered in sweeping pro-worker legislators in states like Michigan and Minnesota, where union-backing lawmakers now hold majorities in both their legislative chambers as well as their governorships.

Yet in places like Texas and Florida, anti-union forces still hold the levers of power. But what holds true throughout is the activism and hard work of IBEW members who are rolling up their sleeves and making sure that politicians from the governor's mansion to the city council are hearing from rank-and-file working people.

"Elections matter," said Seattle Local 77 Assistant Business Manager Mike Brown, who works in both Washington and northern Idaho, where the local has jurisdiction. "It's up to us to educate our members how."

In Michigan, thanks in large part to a new redistricting process that took away gerrymandering and installed a fairer process that better reflects the will of the voters, the state's so-called right-to-work law was repealed. It's the first time a state has done so in nearly six decades.

And they're just getting started. No longer blocked, pro-labor lawmakers also restored prevailing wage laws and are working to reinstate unions' ability to donate to state-level candidates running for office, something that had been stripped away.

"The climate is better for labor at the capital than it has been in my entire adult life," Sixth District International Representative Joe Davis said. "Workers matter here. Women and people of color matter. Michigan has returned to her true-blue roots."

Both Maine and Minnesota are taking on captive-audience meetings, where employees are forced to listen to anti-union propaganda during organizing drives. In Maine, IBEW members participated in a lobby day organized by the state AFL-CIO where they educated members of the House and Senate about the lengths some employers will go to intimidate employees from exercising their right to freedom of association.

"This bill isn't just for unions, it's for all employees, because it protects our First Amendment rights to not be forced into these conversations," said Augusta Local 2327 Business Manager Julie Dawkins.

Like Michigan and Minnesota, Maine has a pro-union, Democratic trifecta in government, allowing for workers to have a stronger voice in legislative priorities.

"It's thanks to our strong New England team, led by [Director of Outside Construction Organizing] Tiler Eaton and [Second District International Representative] Ed Starr that we can push for these protections for our members," Second District International Vice President Mike Monahan said. "I couldn't be prouder of all that they've accomplished."

In Minnesota, the provision to limit captive-audience meetings was just one of many that passed in a labor omnibus bill that also included paid sick days and protections against wage theft. IBEW members also worked to get labor requirements like prevailing wage included in an energy omnibus bill. It's something Minneapolis Local 292 Political Director Andy Snope said he's been working on since 2012.

"We've gotten quite a bit done, and it's because we did well getting our folks elected," Snope said. "How you vote matters, and this year clearly shows that."



Denver Local 68 hosted Gov. Jared Polis for a bill signing in May. The new law calls for contractors on large public energy projects to pay a livable wage and employ registered apprentices or use a PLA.


Minnesota members met Gov. Tim Walz during their lobby day in February.

Fighting Back in Anti‑Union Territory

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that goes after public employees by preventing dues from being deducted from their paychecks and requiring unions to be recertified as bargaining agents if fewer than 60% of eligible employees are members, among other burdensome regulations. The bill, which went into effect in July, is being challenged in court, but if it stands, it would affect roughly 1,000 IBEW members in the Sunshine State, said Tampa Local 915 Business Manager Randall King, who also serves as president of the State Electrical Workers Association.

"They weren't necessarily going after the IBEW, but we got caught up in it anyway," King said.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott signed what's been called the "Death Star" bill into law in June. The law preempts certain local regulations that more progressive cities and counties have passed, including laws that expand worker protections. Among the common-sense local provisions now considered illegal are mandated water breaks for construction workers. In the last 10 years, heat-related construction deaths in the Lone Star State have doubled, reported the Texas Standard. The state has also loosened requirements for electrical licensing.

"It's a dumpster fire right now," said Austin Local 520 Business Manager Ben Brenneman. "We got massacred this legislative session. There's no doubt about it."

Yet even in Texas, IBEW members and their allies have been able to score some wins by fending off prevailing wage bans. Another success was getting an exclusion for the construction industry on a bill to expand apprenticeships in a way that would have hurt Texas members. In that case, Brenneman said, union efforts were helped by the National Electrical Contractors Association, which also lobbied for the cut-out.

"In a business-friendly state like Texas, politicians will listen to employers more than us," he said.

Brenneman said the local plans to get more active in local politics, especially in rural areas that carry a lot of legislative weight.

"Our mistake was not paying attention to areas where there was no work. But local and county races are where you build your political bench," he said. "We're going to rectify that in the future."

Elsewhere in Texas, El Paso Local 960 members defeated Proposition K. Billed as a climate-friendly measure, the proposition would have allowed for a potential city takeover of El Paso Electric, which employs all 420 of Local 960's members, putting their jobs at risk.

Before Proposition K, the local wasn't that active politically, said Business Manager Eddie Trevizo, but this time they couldn't stand by and do nothing. So they reached out to the International Office and got in touch with Utility Department Director Donnie Colston and the Edison Electric Institute, a utility advocacy group.

Now they had the motivation and direction they needed. They attended community events and reached out to media outlets. Trevizo even penned his first op-ed, which was published by the El Paso Times.

"The editors said it was the No. 1 story on their site," Trevizo said. "I think it really resonated with people."

Trevizo, along with Local 960 President Rene Ortega, kept up the momentum. They told their story at every event they could. Ortega even spoke to the El Paso Central Labor Union, which had endorsed the proposition, and got it to rescind the endorsement.

"I just let them know how it would affect our members," Ortega said. "Once they heard our story, they voted to stand in solidarity with us."

That story, of working people speaking their truth, is what carried them.

"The majority of the community didn't know us before. They didn't know that we're union workers," Ortega said. "We're not the friends of J.P. Morgan; we're the friends and neighbors of everyone here in El Paso."

Public speaking wasn't something that Trevizo or Ortega had much experience with, but they quickly learned that their voices and their experiences were what voters wanted to hear.

"I was at an event at the Golden Corral, and a group was there speaking in favor of Prop K. I was so nervous, I was sweating through the sport coat I had just bought. I was seconds from walking away, but I didn't," Trevizo said.

"So I just asked them, 'Have you ever climbed a pole? Or worked at a substation? Because we're the ones that know and no one's bothered to ask us,'" he added. "That's when the whole room turned. We're the boots on the ground. People would rather hear from the guy out there climbing the pole than from the people with an office on the top floor with a view. It's easier for us as workers to connect to voters."

Playing the Long Game

It takes years to build the relationships that will ultimately make a difference, but it can happen. Even in right-to-work states like Georgia and Idaho.

"Our local has a great relationship with elected officials on both sides of the aisle," said Atlanta Local 613 Business Manager Kenny Mullins. "We bring elected officials and candidates to our union meetings on a regular basis and have events where our members can interact one-on-one with their elected officials. We also like to show off our training center and what we do for our membership."

Having those meet-and-greets is a good way to engage members, as well.

"Not only are they getting educated on the issues that matter to the IBEW, they also take that information to their job sites and spread what they've learned to other members," Mullins said.

Because of the work that Mullins and others have put in, they've been able to work with some Republicans on state bills dealing with picketing and the gig economy, among other issues.

"You can't pass a bill in Georgia if it's not signed and carried by a Republican," Mullins said. "So we have used our relationships to get a misclassification bill passed. It's not perfect by any means, but it is a start, and it took 10 years of work and relationship building to get it done."

When the leadership at Seattle Local 77, which has jurisdiction that stretches into northern Idaho, was looking to get a bill passed there. They knew it would only happen with Republican support. So they attended Republican dinners and did whatever else they could to build those relationships. Like Mullins said about Georgia, it took work, but they made it happen.

Now Idaho has stronger protections for utility workers if they're assaulted on the job. Building relationships helped, but it was also member testimony that got the bill over the line. And by involving members and showing them that they support Republicans as well as Democrats — what matters is their support for labor — Local 77 now has a more engaged membership.

"Before, we couldn't fill enough seats to attend the Idaho AFL-CIO convention," Local 77's Brown said. "Now they're all full. We even have a waiting list."

The local also made short videos explaining topics like the National Labor Relations Board and how it works and what it means for their members. The videos explain how the makeup of the board is often determined by who sits in the White House. It's all part of a larger push from the business manager, Rex Habner, to establish a culture where the members are savvy political operators, Brown said.

And once members hear that message, they can be activated to take up the fight. For Trevizo, it all comes back to something he read from former International President Lonnie R. Stephenson.

"I don't remember it verbatim, but it was something along the lines of, 'If you're not involved in politics, you're not truly serving your membership,'" he said. "That always resonated with me, but it wasn't until the battle with Prop K that I truly understood it. It's 100% accurate. Every single IBEW member is affected by politics."


El Paso, Texas, Local 960 members got out the vote in May to defeat Proposition K, which could have led to a city takeover of El Paso Electric and put their jobs at risk.


Maine members rallied at the capital on issues including a bill to protect workers from retaliation for refusing to attend captive audience meetings.